Missouri legislator proposes five ESA bills on pre-filing day, including universal school choice bill

St. John School in Ellisville, Missouri, one of 624 private schools in the state serving more than 113,000 students, is a fully accredited private Lutheran school aligned with state and national standards that consistently earns national awards for academic excellence.

Editor’s note: This article appeared last week on readlion.com.

Dec. 1 was pre-filing day for the Missouri legislature’s 2023 legislative session, and at least one elected official is locked in on improving the state’s new school choice program.

State Rep. Josh Hurlburt, R-Smithville, pre-filed eight total pieces of legislation for next year’s session, five of which are intended to bolster Missouri’s empowerment scholarship accounts (ESA) program known as MOScholars.

The first ESA bill Hurlbert pre-filed, House Bill 242, is a universal school choice measure that would expand MOScholars to allow for any student in Missouri to qualify for a scholarship. Such a bill is considered to be the holy grail of school choice legislation.

If HB 242 passes, MOScholars “would be open to every student in the state, regardless of their income level, regardless of whether they have an individualized education plan or not, or where they live,” Hurlbert told The Heartlander. “So, this is the ultimate bill that Missouri needs to be working towards in order to truly obtain educational freedom for our students.”

The ultimate goal for MOScholars, Hurlbert says, is for “the same dollars we spend to put a kid in public school to follow that same kid if they choose a different educational option.”

Hurlbert also works as a scholarship coordinator for the Herzog Tomorrow Foundation – one of the Educational Assistance Organizations (EAO) collecting donations and doling out scholarships – which gives him a unique lens into what issues are being dealt with in MOScholars’ first year of operation.

While HB 242 is considered the be-all and end-all ESA bill by school choice proponents, Hurlbert also filed other bills that, if HB 242 falls short, he believes will still solve some of the issues he sees with the program.

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BY Special to NextSteps